Hells Canyon Scenic Byway Driver’s Guide

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
Photo Credit: Visit Idaho

If wild and rugged is what you're after, this remote scenic drive definitely delivers.

There’s a reason Hells Canyon is such a popular bucket list destination.

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Travel Details

Distance: ~65 miles

Time: easily a half day, but most make it part of a longer trip to the area due to the remoteness.

When to visit: year-round, but take caution from late fall to early spring — conditions change quickly in the mountains. This area is quite remote.

Highlights: Hells Canyon and Hells Canyon Dam — two iconic, bucket-list-worthy destinations.

Services: Limited services once the drive begins. Provision in Cambridge.

Accommodations: available nearby in Cambridge, New Meadows, and McCall. Or drive up from Weiser or Payette 

Getting here: most visitors begin Hells Canyon Scenic Byway from the South in Cambridge. To get to Cambridge, take Highway 95 north from the Treasure Valley through Weiser or south from McCall passing through New Meadows. This route is not a straight-forward loop. You’ll either need to return the way you came or head east at the Hells Canyon Campground on the very remote Council-Cuprum Rd.

Local’s Tip: The fall color and cooler temperatures make late September & early October prime driving season.

Hells Canyon is a legendary North American travel destination. Of course it is! It is the deepest gorge on the continent, carved by millions of years of the Snake River eroding ancient volcanic basalt. 

It is a site to behold, but not the easiest to get to. Many Hells Canyon enthusiasts make it a point to visit the canyon from both the Idaho and the Oregon sides. The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway provides one route to the canyon, with plenty of other scenic diversions along the way.

Start in Cambridge, a small mountain town of under 1,000 souls. It has all the critical services: gas station, medical center, grocery store, visitor center, and even public charging station for EVs.

Leaving Cambridge, you will pass rolling hills dotted with farms and ranches. While the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is a well-maintained road, you can expect the road to become more narrow and the scenery to become more rugged as you move along.

The first notable stop along the way is the Cecil D. Andrus Wildlife Management Area. It’s almost 24,000 acres of property carefully managed to allow for the coexistence of livestock grazing with some of the most important mule deer and elk winter range in the region. Other wildlife include bighorn sheep, chukkar, grouse, turkeys, and black bear.

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Continue on past Brownlee Dam and Brownlee Reservoir, both of which provide great stops for a picnic lunch. As you get to the end of Brownlee Reservoir, you’ll cross over to Oregon until you hit Oxbow. There, you’ll cross back into Southwest Idaho for the remainder of the trip.

Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for safe pullouts to take in the view. Not only will you look over the canyon itself, you may be lucky enough to spot the occasional waterfall plummeting hundreds of feet into the river below. There are also numerous hikes of various lengths and difficulties along the way.

Once back in Idaho, continue north to the dramatic Hells Canyon Dam, a 330-foot goliath of a structure complete with a visitors center. Not to be missed! 

From here, turn back and head home along the same byway route.

One last thing: while in this area, we highly recommend finding time to explore Hells Canyon by water, either by jet boat or raft. It’s a blast! While these trips are not accessible along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, they are nearby.

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